Satellite monitoring shows smaller harvest than reported

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Reuters / Kazakhstan’s Agriculture Ministry said it suspected regional grain-belt governments of exaggerating the size of their crops to win political favour, raising the possibility that exports could be lower than forecast.

According to figures supplied by local governments, the drought-ravaged grain crop fell to 12.3 million tonnes by clean weight this year from a post-Soviet high of 27 million tonnes last year, the ministry said.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Muslim Umiryayev said Nov. 13, however, that the three biggest grain regions — Akmola, Kostanai and Northern Kazakhstan — reported a combined grain crop of 11.2 million tonnes, while satellite monitoring data showed a crop of just 9.8 million tonnes.

“What causes the Agriculture Ministry concern is that we have a discrepancy of 1.4 million tonnes,” Umiryayev told a news conference. The ministry will verify the data within a month.

Large-scale distortions of grain crop data in one of the world’s 10 biggest wheat-exporting countries, if confirmed, would smack of a Soviet-era corruption scandal, when the leaders of neighbouring Uzbekistan reported implausibly high cotton harvests, which were later disproved by satellite photos.

A farmer from Kostanai region wrote to the minister, Asylzhan Mamytbekov, on Nov. 2. He identified himself as “Citizen” and said he had been compelled by district authorities to report higher yields than were true.

“These distortions are not by 0.1 or 0.2 tonnes per hectare, but twofold,” he wrote. “Those refusing to do so are intimidated with non-stop inspections by various state bodies. How long will this lawlessness last?”

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